Friday, August 1, 2014

Dream Documentaries


John Chambers and Sandra Marrs, aka Scottish comic book novelists Metaphrog, designed this Bryan Talbot illustration for the 'Stripped' strand of the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival.

RELEASED by Digital Storage Engine in May, this fascinating three-part, 142-minute DVD documentary showcases the passions and processes of one of the world's most respected and influential comic book creators. Wigan-born writer/artist Bryan Talbot emerged from underground comix in the late-70's with The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, widely labelled as the first British graphic novel. An albino assassin who gets stoned, activates his psychic powers and ends up in a parallel England where Oliver Cromwell’s rule never ended, Arkwright started as a pastiche of Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius, but by the time Talbot had completed the series the work provided a template from which the likes of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison started their foreboding careers. As well as Moorcock, Talbot borrowed from the British new wave of science fiction writers and the film techniques of Nicolas Roeg, spawning the whole "mature comics" line that more noticeable figures give themselves far too much credit for.

Featuring interviews with - amongst others - Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Pat Mills, Charlie Adlard, Paul Gravett, Kim Newman and with an introduction by Moorcock, THE GRAPHIC NOVEL MAN not only puts Talbot's trailblazing developments of sequential storytelling in context, but explores the comic form in relation to other artistic endeavours. At one point novelist Ian Rankin marvels at how Talbot balances his craft - following Rankin's pains with a John Constantine one-shot - and the sequences showing the creator at work with his folders of notes, charts and tireless research even when on walking holidays are marvels to behold. Not only is the attention to detail staggering, Talbot has always maintained an integrity and pride in an often shunned artistic medium. Talbot refers to his scripts as 'Alan Moore style', referencing the detailed writing that the Northampton magus is famous for, thus being typically polite about who actually influenced who.

Talbot's underground Brainstorm Comix premiered psychedelic alchemist Chester P. Hackenbush, a character reworked by Alan Moore as Chester Williams for his run on Swamp Thing.

Over his forty-plus years in the industry, Talbot's talent absorbs a variety of styles to suit their target audiences. He says he is writer, director, costume maker and editor for each of his publications, which helps to explain the quality of detail. Described by Dez Skinn as "The David Bowie" of comics, Talbot's work is as impressive as it is diverse: Nemesis the Warlock for 2000 A.D., a tale of childhood sexual abuse in The Tale of One Bad Rat, the Grandville series which imagines an alternative steampunk reality in which France won the Napoleonic Wars and the world is populated by anthropomorphic animals, the 2013 Costa Award winning Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes co-created with wife Mary, and the existential Metronome - a textless erotically charged poem produced under the pseudonym VĂ©ronique Tanaka - illustrate this breadth of vision. His story for Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #39-40 sees Bruce Wayne's dual identity as the caped crusader revealed as just a side-effect of hysterical dissociative disorder. As Talbot states in the documentary, "I'm surprised I got away with that really." 

In 2007 he released his magnum opus Alice in Sunderland, a "dream documentary" four years in the making that immerses itself with the relationship between Lewis Carroll, Alice Liddell and the Sunderland and Wearside areas. Using Carrollian scholar Michael Bute's book A Town Like Alice's as a springboard, the sprawling work is pitched as a grand entertainment staged at the Sunderland Empire, and contains a dizzying array of historical weight and illustrative collage, from watercolours and Victorian engraving, to spot-on pastiche of boy's own papers and EC horror comics. Talbot places Sunderland - and indeed the folklore of England - within a mythical dreamscape which explores the influence of space similar to the works of Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore. Narrated in the present-tense by Talbot as avatar, the many threads reveal starling connections and stories that become true on the pure basis of tales being told and retold.

“It’s alright for you middle-class cineastes to see this film, but what would happen if a factory worker from Manchester happened to see it?” James Ferman is centre stage for VIDEO NASTIES 2: DRACONIAN DAYS.

Nucleus Films' follow-up to 2010's VIDEO NASTIES: MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP AND VIDEOTAPE - VIDEO NASTIES 2: DRACONIAN DAYS - focuses on the years 1984 to 1999 to chart the rise and fall of BBFC supremo James Ferman. A Canadian television hack who felt obliged to think that his background in the cutting room and "social awareness" made him the perfect man for the job, Ferman was particularly obsessed with the theme of sexual violence and the use of nunchucks - he even cut the opening sequence of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II because Michelangelo imitates their use by swinging sausages. Ferman infamously not just censored but re-edited films, cutting horror movies to shreds and basterdised HENRY: PORTRAINT OF A SERIAL KILLER to his own dramatic whim. Documenting the Hungerford Massacre, the murder of James Bulger and the antics of MP David Alton, Jake West's documentary absorbingly shows how this bludgeoning practice only served to create a thriving underground movement of fans eager to find and trade complete cuts, consequently forming a vibrant fanzine market for such a social network to thrive. Like its predecessor it is an important historical piece in its own right, contrasting the fight for artistic freedom against the timeless ignorance of the BBFC, MPs and mainstream media.

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